What Would You Do? The Client Who Won’t Finish Paying

What Would You Do? The Client Who Won’t Finish Paying

I received the following email from an artist:

[Last] year, a collector came to my studio and chose two paintings. The smaller work was priced at approx. $1100, the other $1300. He paid me a deposit of $1200 and took the smaller of the works, telling me that next month he would drop over, pay the second half and pick up painting #2. That didn’t happen. Since that time I’ve emailed and FB messaged him multiple time (probably once every couple weeks) and he either doesn’t respond or says that his schedule is crazy (he does have a high-powered downtown LA job). He always apologizes and is very friendly in his correspondence.

The bottom line is that I’m getting impatient and a little grumpy about this—not that I would ever let him sense this. I’d like the painting on his wall and the money in my bank! Of course, I don’t want to turn him off. But, on the other hand, he doesn’t seem reliable. Should I give him a gentle ultimatum? Ask him if he’s still interested in the other painting and, if not, send him a refund for the difference? I’ve offered to deliver the work to him and never got a response. What would you do?

My response:

I completely understand how frustrating this situation is. While I haven’t had the exact situation, I have had experience waiting patiently for payment. Fortunately it sounds like the way it was set up you were never at risk of not being paid for artwork the client has, which was very smart on your part.

I wouldn’t give up quite yet. Do you happen to use Square payments, or PayPal or similar? I ask, because I might try sending an email where I say something along the lines of, “I know how busy things get, but I just started using a new payment system that should make things easier. I’m sending you an invoice for the second piece using Square (or PayPal) that you can pay right from your computer. Once the payment is taken care of, we can arrange for delivery of the piece at your convenience.” You’ll want to adapt this to fit with the other conversations you’ve had, but this should give you a template to work from. I would hope to have the client see this as you providing additional convenience and service, rather than nagging.

Send a photo of the piece with your email to remind him again of the artwork.

I hope that helps, but let me know if you have further questions or concerns. I would love to hear how this turns out.

The artist responded several weeks later:

To update you on reaching my unresponsive collector, three weeks ago I emailed him exactly as you suggested, rewording the message to suit our previous correspondence. As of today, nothing. No response at all. My instinct is to message/email him more-or-less these words…Unless I hear from him in the next few days I’m going to assume that you are no longer interested in the painting, and I will return it into my collection of works that are currently for sale.

Is this the best next course of action?

My response:

You’ve definitely gone above and beyond in terms of giving him opportunities to follow through. I would word it along these lines:

I know how crazy things can get and we’ve had a hard time connecting. I also understand that sometimes circumstances will change and a piece will no longer fit into previous plans. If you are still interested in the artwork, I would love to make arrangements to deliver it to you. If I haven’t heard from you by the end of the week, I’ll assume that I can make the piece available to my other clients.

In other words, I’m not angry, and I don’t blame the client. By using passive voice, I hope to soften out any harsh edges to the ultimatum. You’ll want to use your own words and make the communication feel natural, but you can see what I’m trying to say by wording it this way. My hope is to keep the door open so that if the client ever does show up again in the future there’s nothing awkward about the situation.

The final email from the artist about the resolution of the situation

So what do you know?!?! Fifteen minutes after I emailed my client he emailed back. He has been in the process of moving and had some “unexpected financial pressures.” But he wants to revisit me in about 6 months because he would “like to continue collecting [my] works.”

Your friendly and passive response had the desired effect. I’ve retained a collector and can put a wonderful painting back up for sale at a busy time of year for me. What a huge relief!

While it remains to be seen if the client will in fact return to make future purchases, it’s always best to maintain professionalism and to try to handle these situations with diplomacy.

Have you Run Into a Similar Situation Where a Client Failed to Pay?

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? How did you respond? What do you think of the approach I suggested to this artist? Do you have any other ideas that might help in a situation of this sort? Please share your experiences and comments in the comments below.